Last month I hosted a workshop on spirituality and schooling where we looked at what it means to instill spiritual principles both in our lives as student parents, as well as in our children’s lives. Some great ideas came out of the session, so I wanted to post some of the more broad & practical ideas we touched on for those who weren’t able to attend.
Read myths/stories – Most of us read stories to our children. But can we read stories that allow space for exploration? Many stories are very didactic or ‘preachy’, they are very obvious in what message they are trying to get across. Instead, find books that allow the child to explore themes and connections within them. Ask questions of your child and explore with them. A good example of modern mythology might be C.S. Lewis’s Chronicle of Narnia which are fantastically open ended or even Aesop’s Fables for younger children. There are lots of options. And don’t think your child is too young for this, either. At two years old my child can tell me that you need to share or look at a picture of a boy hitting a girl and say, “No no no!”
Object lessons/symbolism – You can be obvious about bringing up spirituality as well. Maria Montessori, who founded the Montessori schooling method said – “Children must rise to the higher order of the spirit through concrete things”. Make use of symbolism, object lessons, and physical objects to make points about spirituality. Magnetism of praise, balloons and breath/spirit (Peggy Joy Jenkins, “Nurturing Spirituality in Children: Simple Hands on Activities”)
Ritual – In our society we don’t have much to nurture children’s spirituality. In many other cultures, there are festivals and rituals around holidays, built into schooling, and in ritual storytelling. Ritual is traditionally a way of connecting physical actions to larger unseen forces, calling people towards a certain message. The important thing is to look and see what rituals are calling us towards? For example, if we see the American pledge of allegiance as a ritual, what is it calling us towards? Being part of a particular nation, under certain values, etc… Here we can see that ritual in itself is not necessarily valuable or good but if we construct rituals that call ourselves and our families towards something more spiritual perhaps this is of value. Once you have decided what you want the ritual to call towards, you can decide the ritual. There are little ways that we can bring ritual back into family and children’s life. Let each child light a candle at mealtimes as a reminder or a call to be thankful for our meals. One idea I have seen is to have a small table somewhere in the house where children bring things they find that are tied to the seasons, reminding them of the change that happens in natural life and tasking them with finding things that symbolize this. Taking a picture to symbolize each month, what does that month represent for them? Focus on certain aspects of spiritual living and think of rituals that fit for your family.
Time – children have their own sense of time, ability to get completely caught up in the moment. As adults we are constrained by structure, busy schedules, achievement – we need to give children the opportunities to operate free of time constraints. One day, allow them to do what things when they want, an interesting exercise to see where they priorities lay and what their schedule would be like. If you’re someone who needs routine and schedules, plan a time once a day or once a week where your child gets to decide what to do with their time and accept what they decide.
Play- As parents we need to allow specific times for creativity and allow children to express themselves in their own ways. Sometimes we mistake seriousness or subdued behavior for well-behaved children. When we imagine our ideal children too often they are in the “seen but not heard” model; we want them to listen without any room for their own input. Play is an important part of reversing this. Play is ied into our sense of wonder, joy and excitement, which is one of the things that children do so well, we don’t need to squelch that. Laughter is good medicine as the proverb goes. Get silly. Allow them to play, get dirty and express themselves in ways that you might be uncomfortable with. Make your home a space where they feel free to ‘let their hair down’, somewhere where they’re comfortable to play.